Rescuers on Thursday finally reached some of the villages in India's remote northeast that were cut off by a powerful earthquake in the Himalayan region last weekend, as the death toll in the disaster climbed past 100.
Rescue efforts following Sunday's magnitude-6.9 quake, which also struck parts of Tibet and Nepal, were slow-going because heavy rains kept helicopters grounded and mudslides triggered by the disaster blocked roads leading into remote, mountainous terrain.
As the weather improved Thursday, with no rain, helicopters were able to ferry relief workers to some inaccessible areas for the first time, said R. Sahu, an Indian air force spokesman. Other workers moved forward on the ground, using heavy machinery and dynamite to clear roads.
Sahu said nine villages with a combined population of nearly 1,000 were still cut off, but that aircraft had been able to drop rice and other supplies to stranded residents.
India's Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram on Thursday visited some of the hardest-hit areas and said the army assured him that by Friday at the latest they would be able to access the nine villages by road.
Two injured people from Chungthang, one of the worst-hit villages, were taken by helicopter to a hospital, Sahu said.
Nearly 200 homes were damaged in Chungthang, which has a population of nearly 2,000 people. Fearing aftershocks, most residents, especially women and children, have been spending the nights in a Sikh shrine that also provides them with food.
Police said seven bodies were found in the Mangan area close to the epicenter of the quake.
The army on Thursday evacuated 70 foreign tourists from the quake-hit areas, according to TimesNow television news channel. The state's more than 200 Buddhist monasteries and Himalayan vistas draw about 20,000 foreign tourists per year.
The 106 confirmed deaths from the quake were spread across a wide swath of the sparsely populated Himalayan region, with officials reporting 75 dead in the worst-hit state of Sikkim, 12 in West Bengal, six in Bihar, six in the neighboring Nepal and another seven in the Chinese region of Tibet.
Word on casualties and damage from the cutoff villages has been slow to come by, and the toll was expected to rise.
On Wednesday, officials finally made their way to a remote hydroelectric project in the region where they confirmed that 17 people had been killed in quake-triggered landslides and another person was missing.
Sikkim's chief minister, Pawan Kumar Chamling, told reporters Wednesday that according to initial estimates, the earthquake had caused losses and damage worth 1 trillion rupees ($22 billion).
The region has been hit by major earthquakes in the past, including in 1950 and 1897.
Associated Press writer Wasbir Hussain in Gauhati contributed to this report.